Bobby Zen

Jon Dean grew up in Michigan, but moved to Central Florida as a high school senior, and now, as an Ocala-based attorney, his path seemed to inevitably lead to Thoroughbreds. But, after a series of lackluster results in the industry, he decided he needed to recalibrate his business plan three years ago. The result was two years of profitable pinhooks and Dean will be hoping to keep the momentum going when he sends a pair of juveniles through the sales ring next week at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. He will offer another two colts at the company’s April sale next month.

“My brother Ed and I practiced law together starting back when I graduated law school in ’87 and then we bought a 320-acre farm here in Marion County and we raise Angus cattle on it,” Dean said. “But you know the farming business is quite expensive to get into and quite expensive to maintain, so we had to become lawyers in order to afford to be farmers.

“Later on, I had a client who had a few Thoroughbreds. We ended up at OBS watching the sale and all of a sudden I found myself throwing my hand up in the air and buying a horse. My friend asked what I was doing and I said, ‘I don’t know. He was a good-looking horse.’ I wanted to see if we could do something.”

That initial purchase led to several more, but the money seemed to be moving all in one direction and it was always out, never in.

“I started playing around with horses a little bit, but we never had any success really,” Dean said. “But I kind of liked it. I got up a bit heavy to about 30 horses at one time and my wife said, ‘You’re an idiot. You’re wasting all your money.’ Most people keep doing the same thing over and over until they go broke. Fortunately, the good Lord has blessed me with a good law practice, so I haven’t gone broke, but it’s not been real profitable.”

So three years ago, Dean decided to tweak his process. Rather than trying to find bargains in the $20,000 to $30,000 range at the yearling sales, he would focus on better pedigrees and higher quality.

“It was just barely making any money and if you aren’t making any money at it, then pretty soon your wife is going to not be happy and call you an idiot,” he explained. “I decided to change the strategy. So now we try to buy better quality yearlings and maybe a couple of weanlings that we thought came from more-than-average–maybe even a few exceptional–sires. And spend some more money on the yearlings and the weanlings to see if we could make it profitable. Because the training costs are the same, whether you are training a three-legged horse or a four-legged horse. You might as well increase your cost and get a better quality horse with the expectation that you might sell for a higher price. So we did that two years ago and we made a profit. We did it again last year and made a profit. And we are trying it again this year.”

Dean went to $250,000 to acquire a colt by Twirling Candy at last year’s Keeneland September sale and, while the youngster was catalogued as hip 140 with Ciaran Dunne’s Wavertree Stables at next week’s March sale, he will instead wait for the April sale.

“That was the one we paid the most for at the yearling sales, so I have high hopes for him,” Dean said. “But Ciaran said he would do better in the April sale.”

On behalf of Dean, Wavertree will consign a colt by Vino Rosso (hip 571) at the March sale. Out of Queenie’s Pride (Special Rate), the chestnut is a half-brother to graded-placed Joy’s Rocket (Anthony’s Cross). He was a $95,000 purchase last September at Keeneland.

“He checked all of the boxes,” Dean said of the colt’s appeal last fall. “He didn’t have any issues with the vet. He looked good and he has a solid family. He was in our budget and fit the perfect mold of what we want to do–to move up a little bit in quality of the stallion and pay a little more for a yearling.”

Dean was also drawn to the colt’s young sire, who was represented last Sunday by GII San Felipe S. runner-up Wine Me Up.

“If you have a young sire who is also having 3 and 4-year-olds that are coming on and they are starting to build a record as a good stallion, that helps,” he said. “The older stallions that are at the twilight of their careers, they can still provide quality horses, but they don’t have the appeal that some horse buyers are looking for. They want to get the fresh young stallion that is really coming on and really going to shine. That’s the bright shiny penny that gets all the attention.”

Through the Silvestre Chavez Thoroughbreds consignment, Dean will offer a colt by Curlin (hip 174). The chestnut colt is out of the unraced Divine Escapade (A.P. Indy), a daughter of Grade I winner Madcap Escapade (Hennessy).

Dean admitted he was “shocked” when he was able to acquire the colt for $35,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale.

“I was sitting at the sale and in walks this Curlin colt and I am looking at the page and I am expecting him to go for $300,000 or better,” Dean recalled. “He was languishing at $28,000, $30,000. I looked closer at the page, I looked at the horse as he’s walking around. I said, ‘Well, he’s got four legs and I don’t see what the issue is,’ so I threw my hand up in the air and ended up buying him for $35,000. My friends were asking me why I bought that horse. I said, ‘He’s by Curlin with a great page. And it’s $35,000. I’ve lost more than $35,000 dozens of times on other horses. If it turns out to be a train wreck, so what? I’ve been down that road before.’”

Asked how the colt has progressed since last fall, Dean said, “He’s gone the right way. I watched him Friday when he breezed at OBS and he looked very, very good doing it. They are going to have to take a look at him. Hopefully, he will do everything that is asked of him.”

Dean’s 2024 pinhooking prospects also include a colt by More Than Ready out of Runway Rosie (Include) (hip 69) he purchased as a weanling for $85,000 at the 2022 Fasig-Tipton November sale. The colt is expected to be in the line up with Wavertree in April.

“The one that Ciaran has said the most about, that he was a little surprised about, was the More Than Ready that I bought as a weanling,” Dean said. “He didn’t get the prep that they get when they are going to the yearling sale. He was just hanging out in a field with his buds who weren’t going to yearling sales and he didn’t do anything but grow bigger. We had him shipped down and Ciaran said he was a little backward. But as he got into the training, he started adding muscle and getting into it and Ciaran said he is really catching his eye. He’s doing everything we are asking him to do and more and he’s coming on strong.”

When he is looking for pinhook prospects, Dean said he looks for future potential.

“Everybody wants a perfect horse and as a yearling, they may not be perfect,” he said. “But by the time they are ready to go racing, they may develop. You can look at a 14-year-old boy who wants to play football and he’s 5’9 and he weighs 140 pounds, so that’s not so impressive. But when he gets to be 18, maybe he’s 6’1 and weighs 220 pounds and now he can play.”

Dean and his four siblings could represent that same over-achieving spirit, a spirit personified in his parents, both of whom lost their hearing as children.

“My mom and dad produced one son who is an engineer, one daughter who is a college professor, another daughter who is a medical professional with a masters degree and two other sons that went to law school and became successful,” Dean said. “And if you had asked either my mom or dad when they were 20 if they would have had a shot to do that, the answer would have been no, in part because they were both deaf.”

Dean’s father was 19 and in college hoping to become a doctor when he lost his hearing after a case of spinal meningitis. He went on to become a structural engineer.

His mother, growing up on a farm in Minnesota, lost her hearing at age seven after a case of scarlet fever. She ultimately received a full scholarship to Gallaudet University, the national college for the deaf in Washington D.C., and became an English teacher.

“That’s where she met my dad,” Dean said. “He was an engineer working for one of the aerospace contractors in World War II and was living in Washington. They went to a deaf social and that’s where they met.”

Lessons from his parents necessarily permeated Dean’s youth.

“When I was in seventh grade, I told my dad, ‘I just can’t get this math. It’s too hard.’ He said, ‘Son, you don’t know what hard is yet.’”

Ed Dean was practicing law in Gainesville when his younger brother was contemplating his future back at home with his parents in Michigan.

“My brother was telling me about the University of Florida and the Gators,” Dean said. “I wrote to them and asked if they were interested in an offensive lineman from the state of Michigan. And basically, the word was, ‘No, we have plenty of kids that we can recruit here in the south. We don’t need to go to Michigan to get a kid.’”

But it wasn’t long before a heart attack forced his father into retirement and Dean saw an opportunity.

“They sold their home in Michigan and bought a home in Gainesville and off to Florida we went,” Dean said. “I went to Gainesville High School for my senior year, did well, and did well enough to impress the Gators, so I went to University of Florida on a scholarship.”

As the youngest of a brood of highly successful professionals, Dean admitted there was some pressure when choosing his own profession.

“My brother Ed set the standard,” he said. “My brother Dale became an engineer and my sister was a college professor and my other sister was in medicine. And so I am thinking I have to do something. I don’t want to be the dog of the family. Math wasn’t my thing, so engineering was out. And I said, ‘I am a pretty good talker, maybe I can do this law thing.’ I said, ‘Surely I am as smart as my brother. And if he is a good lawyer, I can be one, too. That’s why I went to law school.”

The journey begun by his parents in the 1940s continues to impact Dean and is reflected in his pinhooking philosophy.

“If we can make a profit, we will be very happy,” he said. “If we don’t make a profit, we will be undaunted. We will try again.”

The under-tack show for the OBS March sale will begin Wednesday and continues through Saturday with sessions beginning each morning at 8 a.m. The three-day auction will be held next Tuesday through Thursday. Bidding begins each day at 11 a.m.

The post Dean Hopes New Approach Yields Gains at OBS appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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